For the first time in 26 years, St. Olaf is revising its mission statement.
The Board of Regents adopted its current mission statement in 1987. The statement consists of one core sentence, followed by several supplemental paragraphs. Designed to represent the values of the college, it serves as a guidepost for the institution’s goals. The mission statement is displayed on the web page for prospective students, families and visitors.
While the supplemental paragraphs can be easily changed, the single sentence cannot without an extensive revision process.
The Board of Regents is in charge of approving the final statement, but the Mission Statement Task Force does the majority of the work. President David Anderson ’74 appointed the task force, which is headed by Vice President for Mission Jo Beld. It includes representatives from the college ministry, Student Government Association (SGA), Board of Regents Student Committee (BORSC), the Piper Center, the college’s Advancement team and the departments of music, religion, off-campus study and chemistry.
The task force officially convened at the beginning of Week Zero of this school year and has been working all year to craft a statement representative of the St. Olaf community.
According to Beld, the three-decade old mission statement is in need of an update that will be “energizing and inviting.” Some words and phrases such as “theological literacy” and “seekers of truth” have come to acquire different meanings and connotations. The revised mission statement aims to avoid any misunderstandings and represent the college in one or two sentences that Beld says will be “memorable, accessibly-worded, useful and durable.”
She says changes made to the mission statement are likely to be subtle rather than a radical transformation.
After approval, the one-sentence mission statement will go into the bylaws of the college.
“When it goes into the bylaws it really serves as a guidepost for the college,” task force member Pastor Katie Fick said. “What are our values, what do we aspire to, what are we keeping an eye on as a community?”
The task force is working to answer these two questions: “What is the aim or purpose of St. Olaf as an institution?” and “What are the distinctive ways in which we seek to achieve that purpose?”
Ultimately, six pieces were identified to be vital aspects of St. Olaf’s community that needed to be represented: liberal arts, excellence, the college’s religious Lutheran identity, global engagement, inclusivity and vocation or life purpose.
“Those six things are things that the community is charged with in terms of keeping an eye on what we do,” Fick said.
The revision process has been extensive, with the goal of giving as many people in the St. Olaf community as possible a voice in the decision. There were multiple forums intended to get feedback from faculty and staff, students, alumni and emeriti, including BORSC committee meetings, Google forms and dinner discussions.
The task force also examined essays and articles on the distinctive quality of Lutheran tradition and mission statements of other nationally-ranked, religiously-affiliated and religiously-inclusive institutions.
The task force ultimately submitted two options to the Board of Regents for recommendation. The Board will vote on which sentence to approve at its May meeting. The next stage will be to create the supplemental paragraphs, which will continue to be revised over the summer and into the next school year.
“Certainly we cannot encompass all that St. Olaf is in a sentence,” Fick said. “But I think the goal is to provide language that then you can expound upon to bring in the richness of the college.”